December 25, 2007

Movie Review: Walk Hard - The Dewey Cox Story

The past couple of years have seen an increase in the music biopic, in the form of Ray and Walk the Line. Both films were successful in garnering critical and popular acclaim as well as receiving multiple Oscar nominations each. I enjoyed both of these films, Ray for the strong performances and Walk the Line more for the music. The problem, that afflicted both of these films, is that when you condense their (Ray Charles and Johnny Cash in these examples, but it is applicable across the biopic genre) lives into the length of a feature film, their stories are remarkably similar. Seriously, the narrative of these two films was virtually identical from the troubled childhood, to the struggles, to make their own music, to infidelity on the road. That bugged me to no end, and no I do not know why it did. Anyhow, there is a cure to this annoyance; it comes in the form of Walk Hard a film that spoofs the music biopic sub-genre by playing it straight. Yes, it sounds strange but it works wonderfully.

Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly) is from Springberry, Alabama. As a youth he lived in the shadow of his younger brother until that fateful day when a playful machete fight results in "A serious case of being cut in half" leaves their father telling Dewey that "The wrong son died," repeatedly throughout the film. This incident forever sets Dewey along a path where he must be twice as great for himself and his brother. His chosen path leads him to music where he picks up and masters the guitar in seconds.

What follows is a film that chronicles the life and times of Dewey Cox. Cox is a character made up almost entirely of genre cliches. He marries young, and leaves his family home alone while he meets his true love, Darlene (Jenna Fischer) on the road. He makes all manner of bad decisions, getting involved with all manner of drugs as his music hops styles to keep on top of the charts while we build to the inevitable downward spiral.

You know, I could go on describing what the plot is, but to what end? I am sure you are all already familiar with this type of plot line. The bigger question's are whether or not it is funny and how well the performances work. The short answers are: yes, it is most definitely funny, and the performances are all quite good with John C. Reilly's work being absolutely first rate.

What makes Walk Hard work as well as it does is that it is played straight. Rather than taking everything over the top (like the Scary Movie series) the comedy is played much subtler, the result is a comedy that still has an emotional center. It is an odd mix that may hold some of the comedy back, but in the long run it works that much stronger as a full-fledged movie as opposed to a series of gags. Credit to director Jake Kasdan and Judd Apatow who collaborated on the screenplay.

It seems that Judd Apatow can do no wrong. He has had a pretty strong track record of late with comedies that are funny, insightful, and have a strong emotional core to them. It doesn't seem to matter what capacity his involvement is, from directing (Knocked Up), to producing (Superbad), to writing as he does here. Now perhaps I am sure some will accuse me of jumping on the Apatow bandwagon, but I do not think I am. It seems that whenever anyone has a little bit of success there will undoubtedly be some backlash. His work here, with Kasdan, is smart. It parodies the familiar without slipping into buffoonery. The screenplay successfully gets to the heart of the biopic and even makes you care about the characters along the way. Very interesting work.

Not every joke lands, but there is a high enough rate of comedy that more hit their mark than not. There is also a clever mix of slapstick, sight gags, quick verbal jabs, and some stuff that is just off-the-wall. The best thing is that the tone remains consistent throughout, centered by John C. Reilly's performance.

John C. Reilly has made a career playing interesting characters, but never really getting the chance to take the lead. His decision or not, he has done a fine job for himself. However, with Walk Hard he seems to have put all the pieces in the right places. First off, he can sing, and he does all of his own singing in this feature. Next, he is genuinely funny and can be genuinely serious, both sides of which he puts to great use here. Lastly, he is an actor more than he is a comedian, allowing him to play up the comedy organically without hamming the scenes up. Not to mention he is able to illicit genuine sympathy from the viewer as Cox goes further down the spiral. His may not be the best performance of the year, but there is no denying that it is of a higher caliber than one would expect from a parody.

Not to be outdone, the supporting cast is excellent. Jenna Fischer steps out of her meek secretary role on The Office and sexes it up as Cox's one true love. Tim Meadows is also quite funny as Cox's enabler and the band's drummer. There are also some fantastic cameos such as Jack White as Elvis, and the Beatles (Jack Black as Paul, Paul Rudd as John, Justin Long as George, and Jason Schwartzman as Ringo). It is a strong cast.

Bottomline. This is a very funny movie. It is successful at honing in on what afflicts this subgenre while also not oversimplifying itself. Just when you thought the quality parody film was dying, someone goes and makes something like this that is pitch perfect. Walk Hard also gives new meaning to the phrase "gratuitous nudity."

Highly Recommended.


Post a Comment